December 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 5
Communion And Charity (Part Two)
Catholics have a right to the Sacraments because they are necessary for our salvation. It is a serious matter to be "deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church," as Pope Pius XII said in the third century, St Cyprian wrote, "We should be apprehensive and pray that no one has to abstain from this communion, lest he be separated from the body of Christ and be far from salvation." Thus, the Church in her maternal charity for all souls desires the widest distribution of the Sacraments.
However - in charity (i.e., for the good of souls) - the Church must also ensure that those who wish to receive the Sacraments are properly disposed to receive them, i.e. that they intend what the Church intends as the Sacrament is administered. The duty to make this judgment falls ultimately to the clergy. The first role of the priest is as custodian (or guardian) of the Sacraments. Priests are "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of Christ," as St. Paul writes. (I Cor 4: 1) The priest is first responsible to Christ for how he administers the Sacraments, which he does in Christ's name. So .the priest must educate his people about the sacred character and beauty of the Sacraments, their necessity for our salvation, the effects they produce in the soul, and how to prepare to receive them. To protect the spiritual welfare of his people, the priest must guard against scandal (leading another to sin) and sacrilege (the abuse of sacred things). He must distinguish between ignorance and obstinacy. As St. Paul said, the priest-as needed-must "convince, rebuke, and exhort," (II Tim 4:2), while always "speaking the truth in love." (Eph 4:15)
Sacred Scripture anticipates that fraternal correction will sometimes be unavoidable, even as it is always to be a work of charity. St. James writes, "My brothers, the case may arise among you of someone straying from the truth, and another bringing him back. Remember this: the person who brings a sinner back from his way will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins." (5:19-20) Even as parents correct their children out of love for them, so the priest (or bishop) as the father of a parish (or diocese) must occasionally correct someone who fails to accept an essential Church teaching (e.g., the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception) or an essential moral teaching (e.g., the necessity for Catholics to be married in the Church). Often difficult to discharge but always grave when important matters are at hand, this responsibility is part of the spiritual fatherhood of the priest. It is always related to the salvation of souls.
A Catholic who intends to promote abortion by legislation or by his vote holds a position at grave variance with the teaching of his own Church. He places himself outside communion with the Church, and therefore he should not receive Communion. But it is also the sacred duty of the priest and bishop - in charity - to alert that person to the gravity of his condition, by reminding him that he cannot receive Communion, in the earnest hope that he will reconsider very soon… for the good of his soul.
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